Implantable organ and tissue "scaffolds" are currently in the spotlight for regenerative medicine, and may allow for the replacement of most body parts that flounder with age within 30-50 years, according to a report from BBC.
That means future centenarians born today could have a "physical" age of 50 at a calendar age of 100.
A "scaffolding" technique developed at Leeds University allows for transplantable tissues, and eventually organs, that the body can make its own. Once the scaffold has been transplanted, the body takes over and repopulates it with cells without any fear of rejection - the main reason why normal transplants wear out and fail .
Using this technique, a research team at Leeds has managed to make fully functioning heart valves, which involves taking a healthy donor heart valve - from a human or a suitable animal, such as a pig - and gently stripping away its cells using a cocktail of enzymes and detergents. The inert scaffold left can be transplanted into the patient, writes the BBC. According to Eileen Ingha, a professor at the university's Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, trials in animals and on 40 patients in Brazil have shown promising results.
Across the continent, another approach to scaffolding is underway at Tel Aviv University's Department of Biomedical Engineering. There, professor Meital Zilberman has developed an artificial biologically active scaffold made from soluble fibers, which may help humans replace lost or missing bone.
Her flexible scaffolding connects tissues together as it releases growth-stimulating drugs to the place where new bone or tissue is needed ? like the scaffolding that surrounds an existing building when additions to that building are made.
"The bioactive agents that spur bone and tissue to regenerate are available to us. The problem is that no technology has been able to effectively deliver them to the tissue surrounding that missing bone," says Zilberman.
The invention could be used to restore missing bone in a limb lost in an accident, or repair receded jawbones necessary to secure dental implants, says Zilberman. (Recently, Columbia University researchers used adult stem cells to create a jaw bone.) The scaffold can be shaped so the bone will grow into the proper form. After a period of time, the fibers can be programmed to dissolve, leaving no trace.
Composite drug-releasing fibers used as basic elements of scaffolding for tissue and bone regeneration. (Credit: AFTAU)
"The fibers not only support body parts like bones and arteries. They're also specially developed to release drugs and proteins in a controlled manner. Our special 3-D matrix can hold together drugs that are particularly vulnerable to breaking down easily. The matrix gives the body shape and form, coaxing it to re-grow and strengthen missing parts," she says.
According to Zilberman, until now in vitro results on bone have been good, and some basic unpublished results from animal models have shown excellent promise for bone regeneration. "It sounds simple, but it's not. It's quite difficult to develop a process for scaffold formation for bone growth. It's a delicate balance to apply only mild conditions that will not destroy the activity of the growth factor molecules," she says.
With more research, Zilberman says, it could also serve as the basic technology for regenerating other types of human tissues, including muscle, arteries, and skin.